Handmade Soap the Basics Part 2

Hello friends,

Handmade soap vs soap from pre-made bases

You will find two basic types of handmade soap. The handmade soap that I discussed in part 1 of my blog is soap formulated and "made from scratch" by the soapmaker. The other genre of soap is pre-made bases. What is the difference?

True soap created by the soap maker by formulating the recipe based on the attributes of the different oils, fats and butters can be made using many different processes. Cold process and hot process are the two main procedures for handmade true soap.

In cold process, we combine our meticulously measured ingredients: oils, fats, butters, lye that has been dissolved in the liquids of choice, any essential or fragrance oils, botanicals/herbs, and colorants. The soap maker will stir the ingredients either by hand or with a stick blender until "trace" is reached. Trace is a slight thickening of the mixture. Once trace is achieved, you pour the soap into your molds and allow it to finish the saponification process without any added heat. The saponification process produces its own heat, causing the soap to reach gel stage. Gel is when the soap reaches hot enough temperatures that the appearance of the soap is slightly opaque/gel like.

Hot process begins the exact same way except the soapmaker applies heat to the traced soap to speed up the gel process. This can be done by cooking over direct heat, using a crockpot, oven, or heating pad.

There are dozens of variations on the two methods. Cold Process (CP) is usually insulated with towels, blankets, placed in a thermo box, or oven etc. to insure the gel stage will be reached evenly throughout the slab mold. You can do CPOP, which is oven process; you heat the oven, turn it off and place your finished CP soap in the warmed oven. This will replace the insulation requirements. You can do RTCP, which is room temperature cold process. In this method you allow the heat of the lye water to melt your hard oils, then proceed with the recipe. Some soap makers prefer not to allow thier soap to go into the gel stage. They prevent gel by placing the molded soap into the refrigerator or freezer. While there are many variations of the methods, the end result is still wonderful handmade soap that is unlike anything you will find from commercial manufacturers.

Once the soap is cooled, it is cut and allowed to cure. I prefer my soaps to cure for 3 months but it is useable in a couple of weeks. Generally speaking, hot process soaps cure quicker.

Just like you can bake a pizza by using the oven, toaster oven, microwave, grill or even an open fire - you can make handmade soap may different ways. Each method may provide a slightly different texture or feel of the soap, but it pretty much the same soap.

Now, about soap from pre-made bases. This soap is called melt and pour, glycerin soap, clear soap, transparent soap etc. Glycerin soap is a bit of misnomer because all handmade soap retains the natural glycerin that is produced by the chemical reaction of the fatty acids with the alkali, but many people refer to melt and pour soap as glycerin soap. So for the rest of this article, I will call melt and pour (MP) soap glycerin soap. In my studio, I list all my melt and pour soaps as glycerin soap. All handmade cold process is listed as such. 

The soap maker searches the market for a base that they prefer. Glycerin soaps are manufactured bases that you purchase, melt, color, fragrance and pour it into the molds. Some soapmakers add small amounts of other ingredients to the base. Glycerin soaps have added ingredients that make the soap meltable most often glycerin, sugars and alcohols. Some will have detergents and are called syndet (synthetic detergent). Again, all soap is made from lye and oils/fats, including glycerin soaps. But since true soap can only contain fats, oils, and alkali solution with color and fragrance, most glycerin soaps are not true soap. Glycerin soaps can be transparent or appear solid color when titanium dioxide is added by the manufacturer to make the base white rather than clear.

There are many manufacturers of melt and pour glycerin soaps and each has their own formulations. I prefer to list all the ingredients in my products. All manufacturers provide their detailed ingredient lists to soapmakers. You can usually tell by the ingredient list if a soap is made from a base. If the ingredients contain the usual oils and sodium hydroxide but also include: sorbital, glycerin, sorbitan for example you can be pretty sure it is a commercially produced base. If it also includes ingredients like Sodium Laureth Sulfate it is probably a base that is a syndet bar. Just for clarification, glycerin soap is not just glycerin and ingredient lists should be complete.

Some people's skin is suited to a syndet bar. But in my 30 years of soapmaking, the vast majority of my customers prefer the luxurious handmade true soaps that I have formulated. I always recommend the handmade soaps first. I do sell glycerin soaps as well and they have a nice following. Nothing can compare to the stunning, sparkling, vibrant colors that can be achieved in the glycerin soaps. My gemstone soap rocks would take on a solid marble color if they were made with cold process soap. The shimmering gems call for the artistry that can only be achieved with glycerin soap.

Just as an added note, handmade cold process soap can be made transparent by adding sugar and alcohol but it usually is not meltable. That is another variation on cold/hot process soap. And you can purchase handmade soap that is grated/ground that you can heat, add a little liquid, color, fragrance and mold so you can have handmade cold process soap that is formulated by another soapmaker. Grated soap does not melt the same way as the glycerin soap, it just softens with the heat.

By far, the cold process soaps are my stars. Just like chocolate chip cookies, you can get chips ahoy, or store bought bakery cookies but nothing beats homemade from scratch.

Thanks for visiting, have a great day,


Reader's Comments

By Soapsmith on 09/10/2012 @ 02:30amThis is not difficult to answer. There are many sites on the internet and books about the process. To make soap similar to the glycerin melt and pour soaps that you purchase ready made you follow regular soap making techniques to make the soap. At gel stage you add the alcohol of your choice such as Propylene Glycol. You can use other alcohols but they have a low boiling point so you have to keep cooling the soap to add the alcohol. Glycerin and Sugar water is also added. You can get these chemicals at soap making and chemical supply web sites. A starting point is for every 18 ounces of oils you add 9 ounces of alcohol, 3 ounces of glycerin and 3 ounces of sugar dissolved in water. Depending on the oils you choose, you may need to adjust your levels of solvents to get the clarity you need. The process is simple, make your soap hot process, at gel stage, stir in your solvents and continue the cook until it is clear and you are done. Care should be taken with the alcohols when working with heat. Hope that helps.

By Guest on 09/10/2012 @ 01:54amSTILL DIDNT ANSWER MY QUESTION!HOW DO YOU MAKE AT HOME IN YOUR OWN KITCHEN GLYCERIN SOAP??????Why is this soooooo hard for anyone to answer???PLease be kind enough to tell me or direct me to where i can find a recipe where i can make in my ""OWN"" home for glycerin soap,please thank you and have a wonderful day,Kim Harman 1-352-364-3598